Ever been tortured by an expert or SME (subject matter expert) who has the ability to help the project? They can create nightmarish situations for the PM by becoming the tail that wags the project dog. It is especially true when senior management needs to bail itself out of a situation and sees the expert as a White Knight.
How can this happen? How can someone who has so much to offer become a black hole whose gravitational force distorts the project in a way that pulls it outside realistic parameters? I’ve seen this with newly minted PMPs© who want to defend the honor of PMI® and what the profession stands for. In general, fighting for one’s standards is perfectly fine; in fact I enjoy working with such individuals as long as they are reasonable. The extreme situation brings to mind a PMP who said he would have to turn his PMP credentials back in if he were forced to follow the project plan. The code of ethics demanded it!
Again, I want to repeat. People who are committed to their professional standards and take action accordingly are the ones worth working with. They are to be prized. Think of your own surgery.
But what about those who are over-the-top (which can apply to engineers, programmers, craftsmen, etc., in addition to project managers)? Just what is “over-the-top,” anyway? Psychiatry can help. There is a term, “inflation,” which can be associated with psychosis. Psychosis occurs when there is a split with the outside world. The psychotic is consumed by a universe within himself or herself – a dream world, so to speak. (By the way, I am not a psychiatrist, so if some toes have been stepped on I beg forgiveness and welcome feedback.)
Now, this isn’t all bad. It is what shamans do in a very disciplined way. They split from conventional wisdom to seek alternative and deeper meanings. It is like thinking outside the box only more extreme. Once the shaman gains his/her internal insight and truth they bring it to community and share it with others.
That thinking outside the box sounds pretty good. Could probably use it on a lot of projects. So, how do things get derailed? Let’s get back to that term, “inflation.”
Inflation involves confusion:
“It is when a person confuses themselves with being the truth rather than a reflection of it.”
You know the type I am referring to. Even when within ethical boundaries there is no negotiation, no shades of gray, and no compromise. This is when they become a danger to the project. Essentially, everyone else is a lesser being. They only work independently for to work interdependently would sully THE TRUTH. People, including the PM, are to report to them. If this doesn’t occur the inflated individual truly believes the earth will start wobbling on its axis and spin into the sun. They can become the PM’s worst nightmare.
So, what to do? The options include:
- Work with them as they are and accept the drop in performance because others have to suffer this individual who is insensitive to their part of the project;
- Get someone else to take the White Knights place. Group wisdom is superior to individual genius. With everyone pulling together they just might craft a realistic solution;
- Delay the project or that phase until a more realistic person can be found.
- (This is the tough one) take the White Knight to task and hold them responsible for integrating others work. Keep them in the pressure cooker until change occurs.
- Hold your ground and let the White Knight quit. Graveyards are full of indispensible people.
I’ve had a client go through the last option. Senior management was Chicken Little running around thinking the sky would fall and wore themselves out trying to placate the White Knight. He’s gone. Work is better. Several humble, good engineers stepped up and shouldered the responsibility. The work improved.
Interestingly, (this is where yours truly comes in to play) senior management was “hooked” on the White Knight. They had to go through withdrawal, withdrawal associated with thinking the White Knight could do magic. They had to be nursed through the process of being realistic and seeing that projects take what they take in order to get accomplished. Last check, things are going well.